Monday, April 6, 2020

So You Want to Be a Runner?

I have a couple of friends who were looking to get into running before the pandemic started. They had struggled getting that first bit of distance: the 5k. Having gone through the same struggles, I was planning to get them out together to help them along.

Of course, there’s no going out together now. But running being a great way to get some time outside during a lockdown, I figured the advice I was going to share with them might be better shared here for anyone who might want to give running a go.

When I first started running, I had a very hard time lasting for any distance. I would set out to run and become winded usually around ten or 15 minutes in and end up walking around for ten minutes trying to catch my breath before going home. Like some friends who had the same problem, I started running for a fixed time instead of trying to achieve distance, which didn’t really lead to any improvement. Months went by and I was still running about the same distance in the same time and never getting more comfortable in that time.

What I was missing was pacing of course. But even knowing this, it can be hard to go out for a run and put it to practice. However, if you learn how to pace yourself on a 5k, I’ve found it’s very easy to adjust those same techniques to longer distances as well. Let me say here that I am no marathon runner--the longest runs I get in are around 10k--and I don’t run some incredible speed (I do a 5k in about 25 minutes on average), so I’m not the person to teach you how to become a great runner. But I think I can help you to become a runner. Greatness will have to be with someone else.

First, make sure you have the right gear. You don’t need to spend a lot, but have comfortable running shoes that you wear for running. If they’re your everyday sneakers, they’re probably too worn out by now and you can really hurt your feet. If you’re like me and you have wide feet, it’s really important to have the right shoes. I can’t wear Nike, Adidas, or Puma at all, even for walking. Mizuno and New Balance are my only options, and they’re great. Other than the shoes, dress cool enough that you won’t be roasting once you heat up, and that you won’t freeze if you run out of gas and need to walk home (as you probably will a few times at least). In winter, I wear Heattech leggings and shorts, a t-shirt, and a thin jacket. I think something like this in early spring can work for a beginner. If you think you might freeze with that, get a track suit, but I’d avoid sweats. In short, you should be cold when you leave the house, you’ll warm up quick once you start moving.

Next, map your run. Don’t go out running around looking at your smartphone to see how much longer you have and meander about until you hit your distance. If you have a map you’ll not only have a sense of how much further you have, but you can run that route every week, helping you improve your pace. On The Go Map ( is great for this. Put together a route for yourself that will get you out the door and give you a little distance to walk home to cool down (about a 5 minute walk) . Another benefit of doing this, is that you can leave your phone at home. I find running with just my keys and a wristwatch is a great way to unplug.

Now the most important part: keep running. I don’t mean daily or weekly (though get that worked out too) but when you start running, don’t stop until you’ve completed your 5k. Before you think I’m a sadist, the next important part here: run slowly. This was what killed me on all my early runs. I would start running like I was chasing a bus and wind up wheezing and walking in circles to stop from cramping up. When you are going on your first run, imagine someone is holding a door for you a couple feet away, give it that courtesy, shake-a-leg run. If you have to go slower, go slower. Don’t worry about your time, just get the distance in. The only thing is don’t fall into a walk. Of course, when you’re starting you will fall into a walk at times, but there’s ways through that, too.

When you do get winded (and you will) what I find works is to decide on a point ahead where you’ll allow yourself to walk. Say, “When I pass that tree I can walk,” then see if when you make it to that tree if you can’t keep it going a bit more with another point further on. There will be times where you can’t of course, but eventually if you keep trying, you’ll break through that wall and find your energy returning. Honestly, it was running in my 30s that I found out what a second wind really is. If you’ve never experienced it, it’s incredible. I hope you find it out there.

And that’s really all you need. Once you get that full 5k in without walking, start keeping track of your time. Try to maintain your time until you feel you can start pushing it then try to shave a few minutes from it. And if you want to go for longer distances, map one out and start over: again, don’t think time until the distance becomes doable.

Well, hope this was helpful. and gives you something to fill in the days of social distancing. On the plus, running alone (especially when starting) is the best way to get better. Oh, and if you’re starting out and you’re a bit older (like me), try once or twice a week until you get your body used to running. Good luck out there!

Monday, March 30, 2020

A View from Japan

These are strange times for all of us, but there is a particular surreal quality to it for those of us living in Japan who have another home elsewhere. Here we have been watching Covid-19 wreck havoc on much of the world, while we stand here stunned, largely unscathed. What gives?

Up until very recently, I’d say it was the Japanese showing once again how well they can work for the common good with only a light suggestion from the government. Yes, Japan did close schools 2 weeks early for spring break, and was among the first nations to limit visitors from abroad, but other than these measures, domestically there were only suggestions that people avoid crowds, that large events be cancelled, and it happened. Local events and stadium concerts were canceled immediately. The city I live in, Osaka, was like a ghost town. For two weeks. Just as the news sank in that we had been spared by our restraint, people let their guard down. As my family and I have seen the crowds return to the stores and parks, we’ve retreated more.

It feels like that the same communal thinking that allows Japan to rise to the occasion in moments of crisis also can lead it to return to normal when they see enough people outside having fun. The government, in my opinion, is trying to encourage people to go back to what we had been doing—a kind of self-isolation lite—to avoid panic and to avoid the economy tanking completely, but all to no avail.

As new cases of Covid-19 skyrocket in Tokyo, many think a lock down of that city is imminent, with Osaka soon following. It’s a shame that we couldn’t sustain this without the state stepping in. But now that we need the state their reluctance to act has gone from a steady hand in this crisis to hand-wringing indecision. 

Friday, January 31, 2020

So I Pretty Much Quit Facebook

(Again, like the last post from so long ago, sorry for not keeping up with this blog. I have been writing more and more this winter, but it's been a lot of work requiring editing and aimed for publication elsewhere. Still, I hope to get to this blog more regularly. I really enjoy just letting a post fly here and there. So, please, keep an eye on this page.)

Well, obviously (if you are linking to this from Facebook) "quit" is a bit of an exaggeration. But I have been going to the site a lot less and really slowed down how much interaction I have there. It's been good and bad. More than that though, I've found it interesting to see how the mode of interacting with people on social media feels as I've limited it.

The whole thing reminds me of when I gave up having a smartphone from around 2013 through 2018. I still kept my old iPhone handy to use when I had wifi, but usually the process of logging into free wifi was enough to keep me from needlessly surfing. I remember what it was like to see the people around me in this new light. When you're not staring down at your phone all the time it feels like everyone else is. And most people are, but surely, like a smoker trying to quit, I would see the people indulging more than those not.

Anyway, it's been almost a year since I've been trying to slow down my use of social media--Facebook really being the only form I really used. In that time I went from checking the site several times a day and having several ongoing conversations in comments (probably what I miss most, actually), and posting regularly to now looking at my feed and notifications once or twice a week.

One thing I know I'm missing out on is the immediacy sites like Facebook create. I feel like when I do look at Facebook I'm walking into a conversation at a party that I can't find a way into. And there still is that urge to hop in (and I do occasionally), but I know it will mean more time clicking away, so I usually smile and nod and make like I'm heading for the kitchen.

But it is really great to feel that you can catch a glimpse of the people you know throughout the day that adds something when you do see them. Or maybe it's that the platform, when not used, takes something away. When I do see friends now, I feel like many of us have gotten into the habit of not talking about things we've already shared on social media. I mean, why tell you about my ski trip or this cool restaurant I found if I already got a hundred likes for it; you must have seen it, right?

On the plus side though, I've stopped thinking in posts. I think a lot of what I used to share with people especially when it came to matters of opinion was usually--to use the term of the day--tribal. I don't mean this so much in the opinion itself, but in the wording of what I would share. As much as I think I was writing things to share my thoughts directly (and I hope I did more often than not) I realize now that often the promise of potential likes from my camp must have shaped the voice I gave to those ideas. Because, come on, who doesn't like likes.

Speaking of likes, that's something else I've thought a lot about recently. When I try to just slip through Facebook quickly and then wind up liking some post, I feel that I should start liking every post. It's like I gave one friend a cookie and then I realized I have hundreds of other friends and an endless supply of cookies, and everyone saw me give that one friend a cookie. (Funny that a cookie was the first image that came to mind, since all these likes definitely help shape an understanding of who we are for the advertisers and whomever else buys our data.) So now I'm trying to not "like" anything either. Sorry, I'm keeping these cookies.

As for the world outside of Facebook, I find I'm much more in the moment. Just as I don't think in posts anymore, I also don't take photos to post. Of course I still take a ton of photos (I have a soon-to-be-one-year-old at home) but I'm not trying to create something to share with the public, nor do I stop after taking a photo to think of a witty line or two to go with it and then go looking for who has seen it and commented on it. This is not to say that doing so is intrinsically bad (I used to really enjoy it and very well could again) but I find the time I would put into just accumulated to a point that I was living more on social media than I would like compared to living off it.

Well, speaking of living off screen, I'm going to wrap this up here. Hope this doesn't come off like a holy-than-thou or fuck-Facebook rant. I do miss some aspects of hanging around on Facebook, much the same way I miss some aspects of playing video games, and I see nothing wrong with doing something you enjoy if you don't find it gets in the way of what you want your life to be. (As, in the end, Facebook and gaming became fun ways of not doing what I most wanted to do.) I just thought some people out there might find these observations interesting. Feel free to email or message anytime. Or, next time you see me in the world, let's talk!

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Sorry I Haven't Written. I've Been Writing.

Well, I slipped on the blog posts routine. On the other hand, I've been writing quite a lot. I've written a short story for the first time in over a decade. I'm shopping it around to some magazines at the moment, but whether it finds a home or not, it feels good to be back at story making. I've also been working on my poems with more regularity. I've been getting in about an hour session in at the computer about three times a week. And it feels great. Just like having a regular workout, I can feel my head getting into the work faster, not to mention staying there; I find myself thinking about lines of verse or plots while riding the train or brushing my teeth. Still, the daily routine is eluding me, but I think it's close.

After trying to get back to this for years, I've finally achieved it by making some changes in my drinking. As much as I love that after-work beer or two, I realized that once I'd cracked one open, my body knew the work day was over. And of course, that was the first thing I'd want to do after getting home from a long day. So, I started not drinking at all during the week. Not a hard-and-fast rule, but for almost every weekday over the last month I skipped the end-of-day beer. This also slowed my drinking down during the weekends, as I lately I can get pretty drunk on two beers now.

The result, I have more energy in the morning, so I'm quicker to get my day started, and I end up with a bit more time and energy at the end of the day.

I'm not trying to advocate for this or start some cult of weekend drinkers. Just sharing what I did and how I find it working so far.

Follow-up since writing and drafting this a few weeks back. With the holidays approaching and friends visiting Japan, I have been going out here and there during the week and it shows. My routine is off--as the holidays will do, I suppose. So, no regrets there, but I know when it's time to get back to solid work, I need to set aside full-days for it.

Anyway, this feels kind of soft for post--a little bit of just me rambling--but I really wanted to get something up as it's been awhile so here. More to come before the end of the year!

And speaking of holidays! (And the need of an image.) Here's a turkey!

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Home (to the Continuing Inferno Summer) from Home (Where Everybody Knows my Name)

Fresh back from the US! Well, some weeks back with the jet lag finally fading away. 

For some reason this trip home had me more reluctant to leave or at least more eager to return. I suppose my wife’s celebration of everything American (from waffle bars and Reddi-Whip at the hotel continental breakfast to the service workers with their frank distaste for their work: “Look there’s food on the floor and no one is rushing to clean it up. I love this country!”) had something to do with me feeling a bit nostalgic for my home country. That, and the easy familiarity of being home when I’ve lived so long so far away: chatting with cashiers and strangers and not feeling like one or both of us have some language or cultural learning motive behind it; not having language and culture be another layer of challenge to everything—whether asking for directions or phoning the bank with a question. I suppose such challenges are part of what I like about being here in Japan (and part of my wife’s excitement about being in the US) but it does wear at you with time. 

Another thing I’m realizing is that everyone is growing old. Well, everyone I know. That is, I’m old and getting older so everyone around me is doing the same, with some young people growing up on the periphery. It’s a mix bag, that. On one hand it’s obviously a little bit of a shock, but on the other it is true we do get better with age. The time and conversations I got to have with my friends and family seemed that much richer with our ever spreading gray hairs and chronic pains. And of course those young people who were little kids when we last met are suddenly young adults with opinions, ideas and goals blooming. Of course all of this just goes back to making me feel old. 

Nowhere did I feel the passage of time more than with my parents. I really had a lot of expectations on myself for this trip. Fatherhood has given me a new perspective and appreciation for what my parents have done for me and what I have—at times, many times—put them through. I wanted to be a good son, for at least a couple of weeks. Of course I fell short. I’m a frustrated son no matter what. But I think I came through at some important moments, even if I also failed at some. It would be good to go back and try again. Although, I guess there’s no reason I can’t try again from afar. But just being in the same country means a lot to them. Maybe I feel I can provide that. 

Finally, my wife and I want to be in the US again at some point for our son’s sake. On one hand we want him to know both cultures, but bigger than this we find many things we don’t like about secondary education here in Japan. There is no sense of cultivating the mind, only knowledge to be assimilated and tested to see your ranking in the next stage of education and then employment. Let me say, though, I have many friends and good parents who think the system here is better than what we have back in the US, largely in that the teachers are very active in helping students succeed at every step. And I think they make a strong point. But at the end of the day I’d rather be supplementing or encouraging self study to fill in for an inadequate education, than be trying to fight against the flood of facts and methods to be learned by rote here. 

 So, we’ve become more committed to the 10-year plan we dreamt up in recent months. That plan being to return to the US, likely Boston, and finally put my teaching certification to use in that great, little city. 

Still, things can change a lot in that time. For one, our son will be talking and forming his own opinions on this plan by then. And of course there is work; my wife and I have good jobs here, and moving in my late 40s/early 50s might not be the easiest of transitions. If things keep improving at work as they have been, it will be hard to pull away. And I won’t say more than to dip a toe in, but there is the politics to weigh in as well.

But, at the very least, thinking about it is exciting. And putting a bit extra into savings can’t hurt either. 

Anyway, here’s a picture of my folks’ backyard.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Summer Effect

A bit of an exaggeration there, but not much. Anyway, here's hoping I can get back on the weekly with this while traversing the northeast from today. That's right, the Breyaks are coming home. (For a couple of weeks.)

One of the strangest things about being a parent, I've found, is how the simplest things you know how to do--stand, walk, for example--can feel like disarming a bomb when you just through a baby in your arms. 

Flying out today has never felt so stressful. And of course, it's just the idea of the whole thing. I've taken precautions: booked a flight early, got the bassinet seat; sent our suitcases ahead of us to the airport so we don't have to juggle them with the stroller. And really my wife has done all the work when it comes to making sure we have what we need when we get there for Alex. Still, I feel like I'm flying to Mars. 

And when I get there, I'm supposed to drive! I've been driving for more than half of my life, and I feel like I'm going to screw up the gas and brake pedals or something. It's just crazy.

Of course, I just need to relax. Stressing out, if anything, will cause a problem. It's just strange how things change when you have this little life attached to yours. 

Anyway, going to leave it at that today. (Sorry, no visuals. Might add a pic later.) Hope you're all having a great summer. Will try to write again and keep you posted on mine as it unfolds. Stay cool, interwebs!

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Some Rambling on about Studying and (Somehow) Wilco

Preparing for the JLPT again. For those of you that don’t know what this is, it’s a standardized test to show your proficiency in Japanese. I missed the 2nd highest level last winter by about ten percentage points. Not fully sure why I’m taking it again. Other than revenge. And the possibility it might be handy on my resume at some point. And it does kick my ass to study. 

A little late to get my study on, but I think I can gear up in a couple of weeks. I’ve been doing a practice test every week and trying to dig in on my weak point, grammar. Seems to be working.

It’s interesting how necessities shift as you learn a language. Of course, all aspects of the language have their value and work together, but at different stages of development, different skills need more tuning.

For example, early on in language learning, I find that speaking and listening are the most important aspects to develop. Getting the sounds right and some basic back and forth is what you really need to build from. It gets you using the language as a tool to communicate rather than be tested on. Well, test in real life as opposed to filling in dots on an answer sheet. 

But you can only get so far focusing on listening and speaking alone. Saying something like “Where’s the toilet” or “I’ll have the noodles, please” is easy enough to pick up just in conversation, but something as seemingly simple as “I prefer noodles to rice” or “If it doesn’t rain, let’s go to the park” require some real hours of grammar head scratching, which, of course, also means reading.

I find the hardest part of making this shift in focus is recognizing when it’s necessary. Like any skill as you become better, you want to keep improving on your strengths, even if it means ignoring your weaknesses. Or, if you’re like me, finding ways in which your weakness are somehow, magically not weaknesses because where they lie are in aspects of your learning that are unimportant (ie grammar). In truth though, I now realize with some focused study in grammar I can really improve my understanding overall; what might seem like a boring task trying to improve something I’m not good at, can help me find breakthroughs in my strengths in ways that working on them alone just wouldn’t accomplish. 

What am I trying to say here? That is, beyond playing around with some thoughts on studying for a test most of you could care less about? 

It’s this, that learning is a wild thing. Tangential fields can open your mind in ways that you won’t know until you try. The things that you find dull, if you can find some interest in them, you can gain a better understanding for the things you love. And maybe even find something new to love. Hey, maybe you should study some Japanese?

I recently heard Jeff Tweedy of Wilco talking about how most of the music he listens to lately is music from genres he hates because he’s looking what it is he doesn’t know, trying to understand what there is to that music that makes people love it where he hates it. 

Who knows, maybe such exploration is what will help us find one another. Or maybe I'm just studying a little too much lately.